on this hideous obsession with remakes

From Harlan Ellison’s 1966 review of Beau Geste (collected in HARLAN ELLISON’S WATCHING), a sentiment I share:

Stagecoach, She, Room for One More, Mutiny on the Bounty, Rashomon, and now Beau Geste: each of these was made the first time out as well as it could ever be made. Each has had a new edition released in the last few years and each one, without exception, has been an artistic disaster. The strangling stench of venality behind these remakes is so gagging that only the horse-blindered producers who have fostered them could hope to accept the hypocrisy of their being brought into being. And only these same men could hope to swallow the rationalizations used to ballyhoo weak excuses for their latest incarnations.

If the film industry does not stop this ceaseless, senseless cannibalization of its own body, it will disenchant the filmgoing audience beyond hope of recall. How much longer can audiences be expected to swallow the patent lies of four-color lithography and slanted Coming Attractions? How much longer can people be expected to invest their trust, their ticket money, their time and their sense of wonder in shabby redone warhorses butchered by second-rate visionaries? What dreadful ghouls imagine they can match the marvels wrought for us first time out by Kurosawa, Ford, Laughton, Gable, John Wayne or Thomas Mitchell? What front-office callousness can be deemed even remotely acceptable for the production of inferior versions of treasured classics held dear in memory by movie lovers; films whose discover by younger generations has been irrevocably lost or mutilated by the release of witless surrogates, merely for the money to be gained from a shameful resort to the reputation of the former version?

I am not a “cinemaphile” in the way Ellison is, although of course I like movies, and I actually see this problem as kin to the rise in adaptations of works in other media, to the point that even terrible source material will do: How much confidence can you possibly have in the imaginations of your screenwriters if you think MARMADUKE lends you any credibility? However, both of us have obviously got something wrong — because the answer to the first two questions in the second paragraph would appear to be “at least 44 years,” which you’d think would be plenty of time for the medium to die off if people were all that outraged about it.

One thought on “on this hideous obsession with remakes

  1. I loved the passage you found. It’s painfully true, but thankfully, there’s recently been a call for more original work in Hollywood (at least according to some interviews I’ve read) Now whether it’ll take or not is an entirely different story. I think another issue is that it’s become more and more difficult to tell what’s a remake or a re-imagining or an adaptation. It’s certainly no excuse and there are some obvious ones (like Nightmare on Elm Street) but others are much more deceptive in their advertising.

    – Calhoun


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